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ALBANY Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Tuesday his office is undertaking an audit of the state's $200 million ad campaign that promotes New York's business climate and tourism.

The state has been allocating $50 million a year for the past four years under New York's "Open for Business" marketing campaign. But the Empire State Development Corp., which runs the program, has offered few details about the spending.

A Freedom of Information request by Gannett's Albany Bureau a year ago seeking information about the use of taxpayer money on the program has been repeatedly delayed.

DiNapoli said the public has a right to know how the money is being spent and if it's being used appropriately.

"Taxpayers always have the right to know how their money is being spent and what they are getting for those dollars," DiNapoli said in a statement to Gannett. "Economic development and job creation, the goals of New York's Open for Business campaign, are essential to help our state grow. Our auditors will be examining how the money for this program was spent."

There was no immediate comment from Empire State Development about the audit.

Cuomo has touted the ad campaign as a way to promote New York's economy to prospective companies and to lure tourists to upstate. Last March, Empire State Development revealed that it had spent $15.2 million during the prior three months on an ad campaign for Start-Up NY, a Cuomo initiative that creates tax-free zones for new businesses mainly upstate.

The ad campaign included $8.9 million in out-of-state markets.

Cuomo has defended the spending, saying it aims to improve New York's economy and market its attractiveness to other states. Cuomo has contended that New York has changed its high-tax reputation.

"We changed the facts, we changed the taxes and then we said to the rest of this country, 'Give us a second look,'" Cuomo said last month in Rochester. "We're not the New York you think we are."

Critics of the ad campaign have questioned its effectiveness and have called for a full accounting of how the money has been spent. DiNapoli and Cuomo are both Democrats seeking re-election this year.

Gannett submitted a Freedom of Information request with Empire State Development on July 9, 2013, asking for records on all the expenses associated with the ad campaign, such as where the ads ran.

The state authority has regularly delayed fulfilling the request, and the latest response, dated June 26, said "ESD continues to gather and review documents responsive" to the request.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said last week that state law deems that a FOIL request is denied if it's extended more than two times, allowing for an appeal. Gannett filed an appeal this week with the agency.

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